In the last Fan Consultation Group meeting with Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow, on December 10th 2019, Villa’s potential transfer activity in the January transfer window was played down. While Purslow was reluctant to go into any details, the impression he gave was the January window was not a window you plan for too much in advance – it was more a case of what became available and reacting to it, if the opportunity knocked.
The Villa CEO ventured there could be one or two things that might happen. At the time, there didn’t seem to be much urgency. From where Purslow was sitting, Villa were at the beginning of a journey to get amongst the Premier League’s elite. While this was an undoubted season of transition, relegation this season was unthinkable.
Judging by Purslow’s reaction to the January window, it seemed he thought that the current crop of players, with a body or two more, would be enough this season.
Three weeks though is a long time in football.
First there was the poor results, that saw Villa spiral into the relegation zone come the start of the new year. In the three ‘must win’ Christmas fixtures against the then bottom three, that offered potential redemption before the new year started, the way Villa were swept aside by Southampton and Watford, suggested the possibility of relegation was very much real.
The recent 6-1 capitulation against Manchester City at Villa Park reinforced the notion.
With Villa’s recent visits to the Premier League relegation zone, Dean Smith, the man Purslow is adamant is central to the club’s rebuilding process (hence the new contract), has come under pressure by a section of the Villa fanbase.
While Villa’s Head Coach perhaps deserves more patience and support, considering he had got Villa promoted ahead of schedule last season, those fans already calling ‘Smith Out’ are symptomatic with the genuine worry to Villa’s potential status at the end of the season.
The concern is real.
There was instant hope for Smith as 2020 started, but just as the Villa Head Coach found a formation switch at Turf Moor, that hinted at better days ahead – adding defensive solidity and utilising Wesley to better effect – Villa’s luck took a further turn for the worse.
If John McGinn’s long-term injury wasn’t bad enough, the further loss of both Tom Heaton and Wesley in the Burnley game, for the rest of the season, was a bitter pill to take.
Villa had lost three key first players from what you could consider the team’s five-man spine, with only Tyrone Mings and Jack Grealish now still available.
Villa had moved swiftly to cover the loss of a couple of their latest absentees, with Danny Drinkwater coming in for McGinn and Pepe Reina in for Heaton. While they both bring welcome Premier League experience into a young squad, both players will not be seen as improvements.
The main goal for the January window though was always to improve Villa’s attacking options, whether Wesley got injured or not.
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Pre-Injury Serious Needs
Most fans will believe there is little chance of surviving the drop this season, if they don’t add a legitimate Premier League level striker or two, before the January window closes.
When the season kicked off, Villa had three strikers with zero Premier League experience. Keinan Davis (21) and Wesley (23) are very much still developing, while Jonathan Kodjia has never been considered a top tier entity and will leave the club this month (to Doha).
Despite Smith putting on a brave face when the summer window shut, saying he was happy with his striker options, most Villa supporters weren’t convinced.
You can treble that sentiment, after Smith said, following the recent City defeat, “we’ll cope”, if a new striker couldn’t be found in January.
The equation is simple for most: no striker = no Premier League next season.
In terms of Wesley’s injury, Villa are at least lucky that it happened at the start of a transfer window, but here we are, over half-way through the transfer window and no striker.
It’s bordering on embarassing that Villa have been unable to field a striker in their last three fixtures.
It’s certainly not ideal when you consider how pivotal the remaining league games of January are with Villa facing direct relegation rivals and the small matter of a cup semi-final, which don’t come around too often.
It would seem help is on its way though.
The incoming Ally Samatta is another product of Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League. The Tanzanian international striker was on Villa’s short list in the summer, although it’s not known why Villa didn’t make more of an effort to sign him then, considering their shortfall in forward options.
Samatta follows in the footsteps of both Christian Benteke and Welsey, who arrived from the same league and had fans thinking “who?’, before they opened up Google and Youtube. The concern is, like Villa’s previous Belgium league imports, Samatta will need time to acclimatise to both a new country and club.
Time is not on Villa’s side though.
Back in December in the FCG meeting, the assembled Villa supporters were told that the current focus was assembling the playing side of the club, while being reminded that the club is now being run by highly skilled professionals, who knew what they were doing.
Villa fans will be largely in agreement with that notion, based on what they’ve seen so far under the new owners. Most also appreciated that this season was always going to be a tricky one to navigate due to the extent of the rebuild, but ending the summer window with a lack of legitimate striker depth, did cast a seed of doubt.
It’s really the first time the new owners and CEO have been questioned. They obviously have done much of the hard yards in terms of getting the club back on its feet and pulling it back from the edge of financial nadir.
With question marks still over profit and sustainability, in regards to the internal ground purchase and with a season’s worth of TV rights money already sunk into rebuilding the squad, relegation would be a case of one step forward and three steps back for Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris.
Financially, it will be something of a risk to pursue a marque striker in the January window to the tune of what Villa paid for Wesley. Any striker, considering the fact that Villa are sitting in the relegation zone, will insist on a low relegation buyout clause and other securities.
Purslow is obviously in the predicament of trying to box clever in a window, where clubs and agents will know Villa’s desperate predicament. It means such deals will take longer in order to get some semblance of value. If Villa are actually getting Samatta for a reported £8.5m, there’s no doubt that figure began way beyond the £10m mark.
As MOMS discussed in the recent podcast, Villa need their new players to be oven ready for the Premier League though. We’ve already witnessed in the case of Drinkwater the ramifications of not being up to speed.
Samatta and whoever else comes in (as Dean Smith certainly needs another option), will have the triple pressure of ensuring Villa’s survival and restoring the implicit trust of a fanbase in both its Head Coach and the current Villa hierarchy.
There’s certainly a lot at stake now.